PRINT September 1963


William Jackson at Bolles

ONE CAN SEE in this small room, in these few photographs, a clear and terrifying pic­ture of what photography is thought to be by the uninformed, and one can realize why the whole field of photog­raphy has such a bad name in the art world.

Mr. Jackson has gone to the mud flats between Oakland and Emeryville and photographed the sculpture that has mysteriously appeared there built from driftwood, old hub caps, and other as­sorted junk. He has made and framed fifteen or sixteen color prints that are exhibited on the walls, as wen as a number of black-and-white prints and other color prints that are shown in a portfolio.

Since these are being shown in an art gallery, we must explain why these photographs are art, and we find that it is impossible. There is a great difference between a bell pepper photographed by Edward Weston and a bell pepper in a Safeway ad, because Weston has worked the pepper through the convolutions of his imagination until it comes out a glorious, sensual object that electrifies the beholder. Mr. Jackson’s imagination has in no way transformed the sculpture to express his emotions about it. He has merely clicked his shutter to record its existence. He has made an occasional stab at creativity by printing his transparencies through filters, but the abso­lute essence of photography is pre­vision, and the photograph is inescap­ably bound to reality, so his red and green prints are embarrassing. He has made one print with a line across it that indicates that the transparency was torn, and he has, most unfortun­ately, made a print from a transparency that was light-struck at the end of a roll of film. This is not creativity. This is ignorance of technique.

Professional documentation demands a technical skill far, far exceeding Mr. Jackson’s. Many examples might be cited, but it seems most cogent to com­pare Jackson’s work with photographs of sculpture for illustrating books or for hanging in museums because the sculp­ture itself cannot be moved. Consider, for example, Franceschi’s photographs of the sculpture at the Cathedral of Autun. In the photograph of Eve, the quality of the material is elegantly ex­pressed. If one reaches out and touches it, one is surprised—paper. Not stone at all. The eye follows around Eve’s head. We are aware of the exact height of the relief. We know Eve’s position in the scheme of the entire sculpture be­cause other photographs have shown us. The Autun exhibit had a filmic quali­ty. Long shots were used to give the setting, and closeup shots filled in the details and the mood. Significant photo­graphs were repeated, a sort of refrain. The exhibit was hardly, in the strictest sense, creative photography, but it was certainly a delightfully creative ap­proach to documentation.

Mr. Jackson’s photographs run a pa­thetic second. From the quality of his images, I doubt that I would know what the materials were (except that I have seen the sculpture many times). In photographing sculpture, the tactile quality is important. I should touch the photographs and be surprised that I don’t get splinters in my fingers from the driftwood. All Mr. Jackson’s photo­graphs are made from about the same distance and framed in the same way—­he has used his camera like a fixed-­focus box Brownie. About his ignorance of elementary photographic essentials—cleanliness, print quality, and the rest—the less said the better.

Margery Mann